NYC x Hanoi

The most interesting photos to take are photos of people.

1. Laughter

Laughing lady. NYC, 2016

People look better when laughing. Why? Laughter, happiness, joy, and positivity are infectious.

My grandma laughing; I want to forever remember her like this.

How to get people to laugh?

  1. Tell them a bad joke.
  2. Ask them to laugh, start by laughing yourself. Say “HAHAHAHA!”
  3. Tell them “Think of how silly you were when you were a kid.”
  4. Tickle them

Paris, 2016. I loved his teeth and asked him to laugh for me.

Mark Cohen, laughter.

2. Look at the background (Environmental Portrait)

My mom at my apartment in Berkeley. 2015. Shot before eating a meal. This makes me happy.

Don’t get tunnel vision only on your subject. Look at the environment behind them.

They call this “environmental portraiture.” You make a portrait of a person in the CONTEXT of their environment.

For the photo of my mom, it was in the context of my apartment. Therefore it feels more personal and meaningful.

To learn more buy PHOTO JOURNAL.

3. No negative space on the edges of the frame

Portrait of Cindy / Orange County, 2015

When shooting, fill the frame on the extreme left and right of the frame. This focuses the energy into the center of the frame, and helps you focus on your subject.

Also, evoke memory.

In the above photo of Cindy, you see the memory of her mom and dad on the far left of the frame. I just shot this photo on a phone.

They also call this the “BOOKEND TECHNIQUE.”

4. Put yourself into the photo.

Kiss. Hotel room. Saigon, 2017.

To me, there are no such thing as good or bad photos. Only personal photos, and impersonal photos.

Put yourself into your photos. This will make it more personal. Viewers love personal photos. Consider all these celebrity gossip magazines…we are always fascinated in the personal lives of other people.

Make open-ended photos. The photo above, there is that lipstick kiss on the mirror. What does it mean? It’s open to interpretation— another good way to make photos.

And when in doubt,


5. Hand Gestures

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Don’t just shoot people with their hands by their sides. Ask them to pose with their hands.

New Orleans, 2015 #RICOHGRII

Treat making photos with your subjects like DANCING. Ask them to move around, and look different directions.

Cindy’s hands. Berkeley, 2016
Contact sheet. Cindy’s hands. Berkeley, 2016

To get good natural hand gestures, instead of telling them what to do with their hands, ask them open-ended questions like,

  • What was your dream as a kid?
  • What do you love most about your face?
  • What is the best thing that happened to you this week?

This will make people interact with their face with their hands.

I’m lucky that I got Cindy. She dances with me, and we often use props like flowers, to make the portraits more fun:

Nice hand gestures with Cindy. Dancing around in front of our hotel room. Saigon, 2017

6. Collaborate with your subject

When I make photos of Cindy, it is a collaboration. She knows how to pose and move.

Also, I ask her to choose her favorite photos. When I’m shooting her, I show her the LCD screen to review her poses and how she looks.

As a practical tip, while you’re making photos of your subject, show them the photos. Ask them which photos they like. Offer to email them their favorite photos of themselves.

Don’t just “take” photos of your subjects. Rather, MAKE photos together.

Photography with a human being is a dance… you need two to dance.

7. Obscure the eyes.

Scissors. Saigon, 2017. Cindy.

Eyes are the windows to the soul. But what happens when you cannot see their eyes? Can you no longer see their soul?

To me, photos without eyes are more mysterious. I like mystery. It makes the photos more interesting and fun.

Black and white photo of Cindy with no eyes. Saigon, 2017.

You can ask your subject to look down, or away from the lens. Or you can cut out their eyes by not including their eyes in your frame.

Colorful Cindy with halo. Hanoi, 2017.

Another tip, put their eyes in the shadows, and shoot with -1 or -2 exposure compensation.

Portrait of Cindy on Ricoh GR II, Program Mode,-1 exposure compensation.

Or the easy way, get your subject to wear sunglasses.

Cindy with sunglasses. All blue. Melrose blvd in Los Angeles, 2015

8. Leading lines in the background

Note the leading lines on the left and right of the frame that focuses your attention on Cindy. Hue, 2017.

When shooting, look for leading diagonal lines that direct to your subject.

9. Study body poses in all forms of art

Matisse x Eric Kim

Most photos of people suck. Study old school art for poses and body gestures of people.

Note the nice body gesture from Picasso.
Body sketches from Picasso.

10. Study fashion photography

The fashion photographers make the best photos of people.

Study Richard Avedon, Irving Penn.

Irving Penn.

Downtown LA, 2016

7 Lessons I’ve Learned From My First Fashion Shoot >


Photo by Bil Brown

To make better photos of people, LOVE PEOPLE. Love to be social, gregarious, and close to other human beings.

If you have social anxiety, or want to build more confidence, attend an ERIC KIM EXPERIENCE to conquer your fears and meet new peers.

Or share your favorite people photos on ERIC KIM FORUM.



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